Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Youth Leader Calls for Urgent Assistance for Zimbabwe

25 June 2008

Zimbabwe's run-off presidential election should be postponed, according to a young leader of the country's Student Christian Movement, who is in Switzerland to request the churches support for addressing the humanitarian crisis in the South African country. Prosper Munatsi, the General Secretary of the Student Christian Movement of Zimbabwe, had hoped to visit Geneva last week to offer his testimony about the unfolding political and humanitarian crisis in Zimbabwe at the UN Human Rights Council. Instead he was jailed before his departure from Zimbabwe after the Harare Ecumenical Centre, where several Christian groups have their offices, was raided by Zimbabwe police and security forces on 9 June. His prison experience and first-hand knowledge of the situation in Zimbabwe is causing him to call for the elections to be postponed and for some form of international intervention. Although he had been imprisoned for a longer period before, his 24-hour stay in jail last week "was terrifying", says Munatsi. In addition to the intimidation and reports about people being killed while in detention, the place was not "suitable for human habitation", he says. There was no water, electricity or blankets and detainees had to sleep "on the cold floor" in the middle of winter. Munatsi's depiction of the Harare prison where he and several other members of Christian organizations were detained resembles a snapshot of the country's situation. "The violence is really out of hand", says Munatsi. If before it affected mainly rural areas, now it has spread "all over the country". The lack of food is "really critical", with half the population, including close to 2 million children "facing starvation". To request support from ecumenical organizations and churches is one of the main purposes of Munatsi's short visit to Geneva. The humanitarian crisis asks for the churches' urgent intervention. In addition to the food problem, close to 40,000 people have been displaced and they lack everything, including access to health care facilities. Local churches are doing their best, but have run out of resources. "The extension of the crisis is such that they can no longer help, house, feed people." Mugabe cannot kill all the Zimbabweans The churches efforts are not limited to humanitarian aid. They have also tried everything in their power to achieve a non-violent, democratic and peaceful solution to the crisis, says Munatsi. "They are very much willing to observe the election", but the government of President Robert Mugabe maintains that "churches should limit themselves to the pulpit", he explains. By not allowing them to appoint electoral observers, "the churches' democratic rights have been denied". Are Zimbabweans disappointed with opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai, who withdrew from the upcoming election, somewhat preventing them to exercise their right to vote? "No, we are not", says Munatsi. "It was the right thing to do, because it valued the lives of Zimbabwean people first, before any political ambition." Right now, the election observers sent by the international community "are observing the killings", points out Munatsi. Under the current conditions, the election "must be postponed" and the "international community must intervene to stop the violence". He thinks that "peace monitors" should be deployed and mechanisms put in place "to create an environment conducive to free and fair elections". Having been imprisoned twice in the last two months, Munatsi is traveling back home to occupy his place as leader of an ecumenical organization of young Christians which cannot keep a register of its approximately 3,000 members for fear of political repression. Waiting for him in Harare are offices where the furniture has disappeared, materials have been confiscated and computers stolen, leaving the organization's staff with neither place nor means to work. But Munatsi is not afraid of going back. "Mugabe cannot kill the whole of Zimbabweans", he says. "We need to be brave enough and work for the people" so they can live free and "enjoy their Godly given rights". Juan Michel/WCC Media

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